Commodore makes US debut

The Holden Commodore has donned a bow-tie and stepped out in front of American racing fans at Daytona International Speedway as the Chevrolet SS.

Four-time Nascar champion Jeff Gordon helped present the Chevrolet version of the SS Commodore in front of cheering fans within metres of the banked speedway.

The production Chevrolet SS made its debut overnight in Florida, on the same day the opening race of the 2013 Nascar series. The Sprint Unlimited race also marks the debut of the Chevrolet race car that takes on the SS design and name, indicating how important the four-door muscle car is to Chevrolet’s marketing program.

General Motors North America president Mark Reuss introduced a silver production SS that was driven into the staging area by Gordon, who has a keen interest in the success of the car given he also owns a Chevrolet dealership.

It was a huge moment for Ruess, who started up the VF Commodore program when he was the managing director of GM Holden. Back then, he envisaged the next-generation Commodore could be sold in the US and started working on the plan as soon as he was appointed to his current position in the US in late 2009.

He said using the Commodore-based SS as the Nascar racer, or at least as the design theme, was a key part of the Chevrolet SS export plan.

His idea was that Chevrolet should offer a road car that was closer to its Nascar machine than the front-drive Impala, in that it should have a V8 and send its power to its rear wheels.

Chevrolet’s rivals in the 2013 Nascar season, Ford and Toyota, use race cars based on front-drive production models that are not offered with V8 engines.

“It’s all a bit fake really,” Reuss said. “Only Chevrolet races what they sell, in terms of the design and configuration of the powertrain and engine.”

The Chevrolet SS marks the third attempt to sell Australian-made Holdens to the American public, following the Monaro-based GTO and VE Commodore-based Pontiac G8, which was dropped, along with the Pontiac brand in 2009. Holden exports the current Caprice police car to the US, but there are no plans for a civilian version.

The Chevrolet version of the Adelaide-made SS looks almost identical to the VF donor car, apart from the bow-tie badge (which some Commodore owners have already fitted to previous models), but there are some key differences. The biggest is found in the engine bay.

While the SS Commodore will continue to run the 6.0-litre GEN IV when it is introduced in the middle of this year, the Chevrolet model gets the 6.2-litre LS3 V8 that is fitted to the soon-to-be replaced Corvette and current HSVs. The same engine was used in the G8 GXP Pontiac introduced in 2008.

This time around, the LS3 produces 309kW and 563Nm. It’s not as much as the HSV models produce thanks to a slightly more muffled exhaust to appease stricter US drive-by exhaust noise standards and a slightly different engine tune.

Chevrolet will only sell an automatic SS as anticipated manual sales are so low that it’s not worth offering one. The American SS will come loaded with every feature available in the VF program, including heads-up display and forward collision alert.

Chevrolet has also announced the car will come with a driver-side knee airbag as standard, taking the airbag count to seven. Holden will also fit the knee airbag to all VF Commodores as standard equipment.

Gordon has been big supporter of the SS program, praising GM for introducing its first V8 rear drive family sedan since 2006.

“I know one you’ve already sold one, and that’s to me,” he said after stepping out of the car during the presentation. “It’s a four-door sedan with the heart of a Corvette, I love what you guys are doing with this, bringing that luxury and performance together.”

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